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AB 487/SB 450 Treatment of Animals

Animals believed to have been involved in crimes against animals, when a stray or abandoned animal may be considered unclaimed, and a court order relating to an animal taken into or held in custody
Updated 23 February 2016
rescued dog at adoption day

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Please note: AB 487/ SB 450 passed both houses and will be signed into law. 173.19 (1) reduces the so-called "stray hold" time from 7 days to 4 days. However, an amendment has been added that states: "Notwithstanding sub. (1), a political subdivision or person contracting under s. 173.151) may not euthanize the animal taken into custody under s. 173.13 (1) (a) 1. before 7 days have elapsed after custody is taken, except to alleviate physical suffering or to protect the safety of shelter staff, volunteers, or the public."  Quite frankly, we see this as something of a contradiction.

 pawprint bullet point   Final Text of Bill   pawprint bullet point   Amendment to Bill   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Summary & Text of AB 487/ SB 450   pawprint bullet point   DATCP Fiscal Estimate (PDF)   pawprint bullet point   AB 487 Bill History   pawprint bullet point   SB 450 Bill History   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Wisconsn Federated Humane Societies (WFHS) Statement   pawprint bullet point


Rescued dogs at an adoption event.       According to Wisconsn Federated Humane Societies (WFHS), legislation has been introduced in Wisconsin that will effect animal shelters, humane societies and how stray animals are managed.

       One intent of this bill (Assembly Bill 487 and the Senate companion bill SB450) is to improve the outcome for seized animals (often called Court Case animals) in Wisconsin - animals who have been taken into custody as victims of cruelty, hoarding, or animal fighting. Another primary purpose is to alter the stray-hold period from 7 days to 4 days.

       There are few disputes that many of the changes proposed are for the good. However, how indivicual shelters, rescues, or “stray hold” facilities will be affected, if this legislation becomes law, is specific to each's operation and how it is financed. Due to the variety of types facilities that will be affected, what at seems simple on the surface may have many unintended adverse, and possibly catastrophic, consequences for these facilities in the long run. There may also be unforeseen effects on owners, municipalities, district attorneys, corporation counsel, law enforcement, humane officers, courts, and the animals themselves.

        This legislation may impact some shelters in a positive way and other shelters in a negative way. There are no easy answers, but there is a lot to consider. Please read the summary of the legislation and Points to Consider below, take a look at the Wisconsn Federated Humane Societies (WFHS) website for the most up- to- date information on the legislation and, if you feel that it will affect you, your shelter, your pets, etc, please contact your state legislators -- representative and senator both -- and let them know your thoughts.

 pawprint bullet point   Find your WI State Representatives   pawprint bullet point

       As always, try to keep your message brief, and be sure to give your name, address, and phone number. Please be polite and respectful. Name-calling, and rude or abusive letters or emails will hurt, rather than help, our cause.

CURRENT LAW: Under State Statute 173 currently any dog over a year old that has been involved in animal fighting MUST be euthanized.

AB 487 / SB 450: The legislation as proposed would redefine these dogs as “unclaimed animals,” making them available to be euthanized or adopted out (presumably, when they are no longer needed as evidence).

       Points to consider: Some see this as good news, as it removes the requirement for any animal over one year in age found to have been involved in an animal fight to be euthanized. Not all dogs seized from accused dog fighters have been used in training or fighting; some may be lost or stolen pets gathered to be used as bait dogs, etc. Many argue that dogs seized from a convicted dog fighter can and should be rehabilitated and have the opportunity for loving pet homes.

       This is a tough one, as nobody likes to see a potentially adoptable animal euthanized, and some groups have had excellent success rehoming dogs rescued from convicted dog fighters. However, there also could be serious issues with releasing any dogs from a fighting environment to other persons, such as (but not limited to):

  1. Can a former fighting dog ever be completely trustworthy, as they are bred to be aggressive. They have been trained and rewarded for killing other dogs.

  2. Who makes the determination of adoptability? There are no provisions for temperament testing of the dogs by a qualified person before they may be adopted out.

  3. Fighting dogs present unique challenges in rehabilitation, as, in addition to the obvious, they are trained to certain “triggers” – such as the removal of a collar – which can change them in an instant from a friendly potential family pet to a raging killer.

  4. If the dog is not properly evaluated and is released to an unprepared person or family, the results could be disastrous for everyone involved – with liability issues for the facility that releases the animal.

  5. The dog may be unintentionally released to another dog fighter.

  6. Evaluation and rehabilitation of the animal may present a considerable expense to the shelter or facility, taking time and resources that might better be spent on more easily adoptable animals.

CURRENT LAW: If an animal has allegedly been used in, or is evidence of, a crime related to animals, it can be seized and retained in custody. If the owner wants the animal returned, a court must determine whether the animal is needed as evidence or if there is reason to believe that the animal has been used in fighting. If so, the animal must be retained in custody.

AB 487 / SB 450: If an animal allegedly has been used in any crime against animals or is evidence of a crime against animals, it must be retained in custody. However, the animal’s owner has 30 days to petition the court for its return and the court must hold a hearing within 20 days of receiving the application. If the court determines that the animal is not needed as evidence and that there is no reason to believe that it was used in a crime against animals, the animal must be returned to the owner. However, if the court believes that the animal is needed as evidence or if there is reason to believe that the animal has been used in fighting, it must be retained in custody.

The bill also allows the facility that has custody of a seized animal to demand reasonable payment from the animal's owner for its care, and treatment every two weeks. If the owner does not pay in a timely manner, the animal will be treated as an unclaimed animal.

       Points to consider: This provision could result in less expense for the holding facility for housing and care, which could be a significant sum since dog fighting cases take so long to settle. It would also provide obvious benefits for the animals involved, which wouldn’t have to languish in shelters or holding facilities for months.

       However, animals are unique “evidence” and the proposed amendment does not go far enough to address the issue. Thought should be given to quicker timetables for the adjudication of that issue, coordination between civil and criminal authorities on how to handle this special kind of evidence, what “early on” requirements for the collection of such evidence should be imposed on the owner and prosecutors to enable early collection of the evidence, and temporary placement thereafter in foster care pending final adjudication so as to avoid long-term lock up of animals that could later be redeemed or adopted.

CURRENT LAW: Sets the “stray hold” time at seven (7) days before an abandoned, stray, untagged /unlicensed dog, or an animal whose owner fails to pick it up from a veterinarian is considered “unclaimed”

AB 487 / SB 450: Reduces the “stray hold” period to four days.

       Points to consider: Some entities see this reduction in time as very beneficial, as it also reduces expenses of caring for the animal, may get some animals rehomed more quickly, means less “kennel stress,” and may also keep the animal healthier by alleviating overcrowding in shelters. On the surface, it saves taxpayer dollars. For details, please see “WHS and MADACC support AB 487/SB 450”.

       However, some opponents argue that:

  1. Stray holding facilities can include large shelters, small rescues, vet clinics, boarding kennels, police departments, town offices, individual contractors, etc. There is a huge disparity in funding, staff, expertise, operations methods, and other resources among them.

  2. This provision may cause serious financial hardship for non-profit shelters, which rely on the 7 days of subsidies from municipalities as part of their operating budgets.

  3. There is no established correlation between a shortened stray holding period and a quicker release or adoption of these animals.

  4. Reducing the stray hold period may not allow enough time to find the owners. Some stray hold facilities do not have the resources to actively advertise or try to find owners. For more details on this argument, please see: Lost Dogs of Wisconsin website.

  5. There may be an unintended consequence of a spike in euthanasia rates. Stray hold facilities may opt for euthanasia on day five because they have fulfilled the minimum requirement and lack the resources to keep animals longer without the 7 days of subsidies from the municipalities. Additionally, there is no requirement in the legislation to keep or report these statistics--making it difficult to impossible to track potential negative outcome for homeless animals.

  6. Shelters may not have the time to adequately acclimate, evaluate and prepare animals for adoption with just four days to do so.

  7. According to DATCP’s “Fiscal Estimate,” costs to local governments who would choose to limit stray hold to 4 days are “indeterminate,” but additional costs could be incurred in dealing with the public including phone calls, emails, and visits by distraught pet owners whose missing pet was euthanized or given away after only four days. (Click here for the entire fiscal estimate).

CURRENT LAW: A local governmental unit may petition the court for an order regarding an animal in custody, including an order requiring payment or the posting of a bond for the costs of custody, care, and treatment pending the outcome of a proceeding or an order authorizing the sale, destruction, or other disposal of the animal.

AB 487 / SB 450: A person other than a local governmental unit that has custody of an animal, such as a humane society, may petition the court for such an order.

       Points to consider: While it is good that anyone with custody of a seized animal may petition for payments from the owner for care of the animal, it also means that the humane society or shelter will probably have to pick up the costs for filing the petition, and also for an attorney to handle the filing. The cost of hiring an attorney may be prohibitive for some shelters. In the past, humane organizations would, in some cases, get assistance in this area from municipal or county corporation counsels or district attorneys.

CURRENT LAW defines an “unclaimed animal” as one that has been abandoned or astray, an untagged or unlicensed dog, or an animal whose owner fails to pick it up from a veterinarian. After a specified holding period, “unclaimed animals” may be adopted out, sold, euthanized, or, if a stray, released for scientific or educational purposes.

AB 487 / SB 450: Does not address the possible outcome of stray dogs or animals to be used for experimentation, vivisection, or outdated "animal labs".

       Points to consider: : "Scientific purposes" means animal experimentation. While most humane organizations would not release animals for experimentation, the language included in the bill reinforces that it is a possible outcome. WFHS believes that no pet animal should end up in a research laboratory. Eliminating the possibility could and should be included in changes to the current law.

 pawprint bullet point   Summary & Text of AB 487/ SB 450   pawprint bullet point   DATCP Fiscal Estimate (PDF)   pawprint bullet point   AB 487 Bill History   pawprint bullet point   SB 450 Bill History   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Wisconsn Federated Humane Societies (WFHS)   pawprint bullet point

 pawprint bullet point   Lost Dogs of Wisconsin website   pawprint bullet point   “WHS and MADACC support AB 487/SB 450”   pawprint bullet point


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